As long as they’re singing, the cast of Ford’s Theatre’s new production of Into the Woods, going on now until May 22, can’t really do much wrong. The solos are moving and distinct, the duets funny and clear, and the ensemble numbers are built of warm, well-rounded walls of sound.
When, however, this show — directed by Peter Flynn and choreographed by Michael Bobbitt — puts down Stephen Sondheim’s score and picks up James Lapine’s script, it runs into some problems. The pacing is so whiplash-fast that a lot of the best jokes get bulldozed-over. The blocking is noisy. And while it’s impressive that such minor parts at the actor who plays the cow Milky White can steal scenes — SHOULD he really be able to?
None of these problems are ruinous, it should be emphasized: This is a fun production (of what is probably my favorite musical), one I would gladly sit though again. But it might be best thought of as an Into the Woods concert, with little bits of business connecting great renditions of some of Sondheim’s cleverest patter songs.
A Witch (Rachel Zampelli is wry and dry, apart from a deeply heartfelt “Stay with Me”) sends a Baker (Evan Baker, alternating between amusingly befuddled and plain-ole angry) and his Wife (an endearing Awa Sal Secka is indicative — she nails her songs, but could use some more air around her dialogue) on a three-midnight quest into the … forest for a series of unusual items. Along the way, they encounter Little Red Riding Hood (Jade Jones blends sweet and spunky), Jack of the Beanstalk (Samy Nour Younes makes great use of every moment of his stage time), Cinderella (even in a cast of great voices, Erin Driscoll has some amazing pipes), Rapunzel (a suitably high-registered frazzled Quynh-My Luu), and various other princes, wolves, and mysterious strangers wandering in from various fairy tales. (Again, a tip of the bovine mask to Tiziano D’Affuso’s beguiling Milky White, a role that was originally a damn prop.) Lessons and morals (not the same thing) come flying in like arrows as the eight-person orchestra does the work of 18 — and does it ably.
Some Broadway musicals have film adaptations it’s tough to live up to, others have movie versions they essentially have to apologize for, like Rob Marshall’s 2014 Into the Woods. Ford’s production helps you forget that cascading failure of a film within its first five minutes — all the more reason to give the rest of the runtime some space to breathe.
Sondheim, who turned 89 on Friday, was the first American Broadway composer who brought truly mature, bloody, adult musicals into the mainstream. Give this one its own reins and it can take you for quite a ride.